For many, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an enigma. Someone telling you that they can manipulate Google or other search engine (as if people use other search engines) results will cause you to become skeptical if you are unfamiliar with how a search engine works. A quick Google search will do nothing but increase that skepticism.

You may even read some horror stories about how a business hired an SEO firm and experienced great results initially, but then was blacklisted by Google. Long story short, if you are new to SEO, chances are you are probably more than a little skeptical about it. Hopefully, I can make a believer out of you.

What is SEO?

SEO is based on keywords. Everything that happens on the search engine results page (SERP) is defined by what someone types (or speaks nowadays) in the little search box. Consequently, any SEO strategy has a list of keywords at its core (see my other blog about how to develop your keyword list).

Wikipedia defines SEO as “the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s “natural” or un-paid (“organic”) search results.” This generally accepted definition means that pretty much anything that you do that could positively affect your search ranking falls under the umbrella of SEO. To better understand how much falls under this umbrella, let’s take a look at what affects your search engine ranking.

Every two years, (an SEO industry thought leader) publishes a list of “Search Ranking Factors” and gives them a score on how much they affect your search ranking. Their 2013 study looked at 80 factors. Some of these factors are Moz’s own creation (e.g. MozRank, MozTrust, etc.), but the point still stands: there are a large number of factors that affect how you rank on Google. For this reason, there are a very large number of things that you can do that will affect your search engine ranking.

To give you some examples, SEO could be any of the following:

  • Creating your official company page on Google+
    • Promoting that page and getting +1s on it, ideally from relevant people, like customers
    • Joining circles on Google+ and building relationships
    • Publishing your content on Google+ and getting +1s from your relationships
  • Optimizing your site, which could include
    • Creating better titles on pages that include keywords
    • Adding more content in the form of new pages and/or blog posts, again containing keywords
    • Restructuring the site so that pages are not hidden behind several subdomains
  • Getting relevant external sites to link to your site

This last point is mainly where SEO has gotten its negative reputation. In the early days of Google, links were the most important factor in ranking. They are still very important to your ranking, but Google no longer puts all their eggs in this basket. Blackhat SEOs (the term used to describe SEOs who look to game the system) would (and still do) come up with ways to get as many links as possible for as little effort as possible without caring how relevant the links were. Google, when it was less perfected, would see all these links and think that meant that your site was very important and should be ranked high. Now, Google sees all these links and says, “This medical practice has nothing to do with 150 of the 200 links pointing to it, so we are going to blacklist them for using spammy links to try to improve their ranking.” Google is still not perfect, but it is constantly improving and refining its methods, so for any long term SEO strategy, avoiding blackhat SEO techniques is in your best interest.

Where does SEO fit into your overall strategy?

In order to be effective, SEO must be part of an overarching marketing strategy. Many businesses fail to realize this and see SEO as a separate piece entirely. This is why my colleague, Adam Wormann, wrote a blog about why a pure SEO company is not usually the best fit for a business. Focusing on SEO separately from your marketing strategy creates a disjointed approach that leads to irrelevant traffic and low conversion rates.

Do you need SEO for your business?

Consider this: nearly half (47%) of all web traffic comes through search. This is an average across a number of different industries. Some industries get significantly more search traffic; some get less. But if roughly half of web traffic comes through search engines, can you afford to ignore SEO?

I recommend that you treat SEO just like every other marketing venture. Try it out and measure it based on its return-on-investment. Remember, SEO, when done properly, can take time and effort to implement. Results will not be visible immediately, but given time, SEO consists of proven techniques that significantly increase your search engine ranking.

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